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Joell A. Jacob is an accomplished voice talent, actress, singer, author, speaker, and artisan. With a lifelong love of words, music, performance, and color, she lives creatively inspired as a diversified artist in New England.
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You're the One That I Want
A Christiansen Family Novel
By Susan May Warren, Sarah Mason Rische
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Susan May Warren
All rights reserved.
No one died tonight, not if she could help it.
Except Scotty McFlynn could feel tragedy in her bones, just like she could feel the shift in the wind. Instincts — like the kind that directed her to a crab-filled pot o' gold on the bed of the Bering Sea. Or the kind that told her a storm hedged against the darkening horizon, the sky bruised and bloody as the sun surrendered to the gloomy, fractious night.
Yes, she could taste the doom hovering behind the sleet that hammered the deck of the F/V Wilhelmina, now crashing through the rising swells. Freezing waves soaked the 108-foot vessel, tossing frozen boulders across the deck like bowling balls and glazing the surface into a rink of black ice.
She couldn't shake the pervasive feeling in her gut that tonight someone was going overboard.
Pellets of ice pinged her face as the boat turned windward. She'd long ago lost the ability to close her fist in her rubberized gloves — a condition fishermen called the claw — and her feet clunked along like granite in her boots. But they had four more pots to drag from the sea, empty, sort, and reset before she could grab a minute of shut-eye, then relieve her father at the helm for the evening watch.
Old Red's last run, and she intended to make it his best. Forty-eight hours until their delivery deadline, and for the first time since his heart attack, they just might meet their quota.
"Where's my bait?" deck boss Juke Hansen bellowed, over the thunder of the waves and the clanging of the crab pot against the hydraulic lift, to the eighteen-year-old greenhorn hauling the bait from the chopper.
Greenie — she'd forgotten his real name — dragged the herring bag and two fat cod on a bait line over to the open pot, climbed inside, and hooked the line to the middle.
Once he climbed out, two more deckhands, Carpie and Owen, closed the trap door, and the lift levered the pot up and over the edge of the boat, dropping it into the sea with an epic splash.
Juke threw in the shot line, the rope uncoiling into the frothy darkness as the trap descended six hundred feet to the seabed. Carpie followed with the toss of a buoy, marking the pot set.
The crew sank back, hiding against the wheelhouse, holding on as Old Red motored the boat into a trough and up the next wave, toward the next buoy along this seven-mile line of pots.
Scotty shot a glance at Owen, the other greenhorn, although he'd run "opies," opilio snow crab, with her father back in January, while she'd been stuck in Homer. He'd stayed at the rail, ready to catch the next pot they reeled in, his bearded face hard against the brutal spray.
If she had a say, she might have kicked him off the boat on day one, when he'd assumed she was their cook.
"A crab boat's no place for a girl." Yeah, she'd walked into that comment dropped to the ship's engineer, Ned Carpenter — Carpie — while they repaired pots on the loading dock.
"First mate, relief skipper, or 'Yes, sir,' will do," Scotty had snapped at Owen.
She'd caught snippets of Carpie's explanation as she stalked toward the wheelhouse. Part owner. Captain's daughter. Tough as nails.
But after three weeks of working side by side, watching Owen clean the deck every morning, going at the accumulated ice with a sledge to clear off the ropes as the lethal ocean splintered around him, she'd decided maybe he could stick around.
He worked like a man with something to prove.
And prove himself he had. He looked every inch the crusty crabber with his thick beard, rich with russet highlights to match his curly golden locks that hung nearly to his shoulders, usually tamed by a hand-knit stocking cap. Despite the eye patch that earned him an occasional "Aye, aye, matey," she could admit he didn't exactly send her running when he peeled off his cold-weather gear down to sweatpants, suspenders, and a T-shirt that did just fine outlining all the hard work he put in hauling in eight-hundred-pound pots.
However, hiding behind his yes-sir attitude and that reserved sort of chuckle that held him a step back from the rest of the crew, she recognized a lingering darkness.
She'd bet her badge that he had a story to tell. But she had no desire to resume her detective role quite yet. She'd live and let live, as long as he didn't stir up any trouble.
Like the kind that ignited, deep inside, when she caught his dark-blue gaze trailing her. In all her years working the crab seasons with her father, never once had she found herself wishing she didn't garb herself as one of the guys. Wearing orange bib overalls, a stained Homer PD gimme cap, no makeup, her dark hair pulled back and unwashed for days, she could pass for a wiry but tough eighteen-year-old boy.
But Old Red wouldn't allow it any other way. Which meant that as one of the guys, she couldn't in the least smile back at Owen, linger in the galley as he read one of her father's worn novels, or even play a game of rummy as the boat pitched around them, weathering a gale.
And after their scheduled delivery only forty-eight hours from now, Owen would walk off the pier, thirty grand in his pocket, and out of her life.
Not that she cared.
Caring only meant she'd eventually get hurt.
"Pot comin' in!" Owen threw out the grappling hook, snagged the buoy line, and dragged it in, water washing over the deck. She guessed the swells were at twenty-plus feet now and hazarded a glance at the wheelhouse, where she knew her father would be fighting to keep the boat righted and directed into the waves.
Owen affixed the shot line to the winch, and Juke began to hoist the pot from the depths. Trailing seagulls cried in the darkness — an omen, maybe — and Scotty shivered as the spray hit her face. Heavy yellow sodium lights from the wheelhouse sent puddles into the inky ocean.
The winch groaned as Carpie and Owen lined up to grab the swinging pot and direct it onto the hydraulic bed.
To survive out here, you gotta have instincts. You gotta know where the crane is, anticipate which way the pot's going to swing. It's gotta come from inside, in your bones, if you wanna be a crab fisherman.
Old Red's words rang in her ears, remembered from nearly ten years ago when he'd agreed to let her work her first season. She'd broken two fingers, nearly washed overboard, frostbitten her fingertips, and collapsed with fatigue, while Old Red had just stood by, a gleam of challenge in his weathered eyes.
Now she knew why.
Because accidents happened after a long grind, when exhaustion blurred vision, froze reflexes, and she had to hone her instincts if she wanted, someday, to captain her own fishing vessel.
The pot came up dripping, snow crab hanging from the web-bing, jammed half-full with pancakes — flat, huge male crab.
Owen grabbed one edge of the pot, guiding it in.
"Yee-haw!" This from Greenie, who had been counting his fortunes like he'd never heard of Kenny Rogers. "Must be more than two hundred crab in there!" He edged the table toward the hydraulic lift as the pot swung in.
"Greenie! Watch out!" Scotty screamed above the roar of the sea, lunging at the kid.
Owen was faster. He kicked the kid hard enough to send him sprawling into Scotty's arms, just as the pot slammed against the table.
An inch from the ghost of Greenie's head.
The kid swore at Owen, untangling himself from Scotty on the icy deck.
Owen ignored him, fighting the pot, the choppy sea, the pitch of the boat. The swell lifted them, slammed them hard into the trough, and the pot unseated, jerked by the winch.
"I got it!"
Only he didn't, not with the wave forming behind him, the foamy sea gathering to knock them over. Owen couldn't see it — not with his patched eye. It took instinct and peripheral vision to spot the wave breaking.
The green water would wash him overboard. Four minutes, tops, and he'd perish.
Scotty kicked Greenie away, scrambled to her feet. "Owen, look out!"
He was built like a tree, but she tackled him like a linebacker, breaking his hold on the pot as it jerked up with the swell of the wave.
The pot swung up, then out over the ocean.
Owen slammed against the railing, one arm around Scotty as the freezing water crashed over them. She closed her eyes and hung on. To Owen, to the railing. Anything to get purchase as the boat shuddered, water streaming off the deck. It stole her breath, left her numb, weak. Shaking.
Too aware of Owen's arm tightening around her.
She blinked the water from her eyes as his voice rose over the rush of the waves.
"I think so. Are you hurt?"
"That pot would have knocked me overboard."
"Maybe," she said, pushing away from him.
He grabbed at the pot, now swinging back over the boat, snagged it, and set it on the lift, working fast to secure it, to unhook it from the winch.
Scotty gestured to Greenie, and he shoved the sorting table under the pot as the trap door opened. Fat, flat crab poured onto the table, writhing, pincers snapping. Greenie and Carpie leaned over, began sorting the larger from the smaller, ineligible crab.
She moved to help but felt a hand on her arm.
"Scotty —" Owen turned her to face him. "Not maybe. I would be dead right now."
His blue-eyed gaze had the power to steal her words out from under her. Yes, the man screamed trouble, right here, on the high seas.
She managed a cool shrug. "That's what shipmates do. Watch each other's back."
And she meant it. Because no one died tonight.
* * *
That's what shipmates do.
Scotty's voice ticked through Owen's head, a background rhythm as he replayed every second of the way she'd jerked him away from the swinging pot. Saved his miserable life.
And it all funneled down to one raw, unedited truth.
He didn't want to be just her shipmate. No way, nohow. Because she might see herself as one of the crew — or rather the relief skipper, "yes, sir" — but he'd been watching.
Scotty McFlynn had a smile that could light up the darkest Arctic night and a laugh that, rare though it might be, could find his raw places and make him forget his sins, believe in a better tomorrow. She stood just below his chin but somehow seemed taller when she slid into the captain's chair or emerged on deck to fill in as a deckhand.
He'd probably fallen in love with her that first day, when she'd put him to rights and he realized that he'd finally met a girl who didn't see him for his past or for the magnetic, trouble-on-a-motorcycle aura he'd worn since fleeing the world of professional hockey.
She only saw a drifter, a hard worker, a guy trying to make sense of the cards life dealt him.
For the first time since losing everything, he felt the old ignition inside him, the adrenaline he'd taste before a game, the challenge of going one-on-one against a goalie, and the sense that victory might be right there for the taking, if he reached.
If he named it, he'd call it hope.
But he didn't exactly know what that hope would look like after they got off the ship. A date? Right, he'd ask Scotty McFlynn out for what — dinner? Dancing?
More like big-game hunting.
Or perhaps that's just what she wanted Carpie, Greenie, and Juke to think. Maybe she wore her tough-girl attitude as armor. After all, it couldn't be easy to spend a month with grimy sea dogs desperate for the company of the ladies they left behind.
As if he'd conjured her up, Scotty made her way down the stairs from the wheelhouse into the galley, where the guys sat around the table, tucked onto benches, nursing a bracing sludge Carpie called coffee.
"We've got roughly two hours of sack time before we round back up to the head of the line. We have some weather coming in, and no time to spare, so I suggest you each crawl into your bunk and find your happy place."
She'd probably been up with the skipper — her old man, Red — charting the lines, reading the weather.
Owen watched as Greenie flexed his hands. "I can't close them all the way," the kid said, looking wan and ragged.
An old memory surfaced about practicing so long he could no longer hold his hockey stick. But Owen took a sip of coffee, shaking the story away. No one knew about his life before he signed on to the F/V Wilhelmina, and he meant to keep it that way.
Scotty had shucked off her jacket, wore a sweatshirt and a baseball hat, her long black ponytail trailing out the back. Now she opened the fridge, stared long into it, then finally closed it and headed into her private bunk area, the one concession to having a female on board.
"I can't wait to get home," Carpie said, getting up. A polar bear of a man, he wore his white hair long, his beard in a thick white goatee.
Home. The word settled over the crew, and an ache swept through Owen.
"My mom's already ordered my ticket. Eight hundred bucks, straight from Anchorage to Des Moines," Greenie said, sounding puny, not at all like the cocky redneck he pretended to be.
Des Moines, just a few hours south of Minnesota. Where Owen should probably go after they docked.
Or maybe he should keep moving. It wasn't like anyone really missed him after what he'd done.
Juke and Greenie got up, headed to their bunks. Owen dumped the coffee sludge into the sink, then rinsed his cup and set it on the sideboard.
He had turned toward the bunk area when he heard a moan behind him, coming from beyond Scotty's curtain.
Owen paused, his heart thumping. But he heard it again, short, low, but enough that, without thinking, he swept open the curtain.
Scotty looked up, her eyes wide, frozen in the act of taking off her sweatshirt. She'd pulled her hat off, freeing her thick sable hair to cascade over her shoulder. "What are you doing here?"
"You're ... moaning." That sounded awkward, and now he wanted to back away before anyone got hurt.
Or maybe not, because he saw the tiniest hint of pain around her eyes. He'd been an athlete long enough to know when someone was hiding an injury.
"You're not fine." He stepped into the room. "Shut up and let me help."
Her mouth tightened into a knot of annoyance, but she let him take the arm of her sweatshirt and pull as she eased out of it.
One of her eyes closed in a wince and she cradled her arm to her body.
Dropping the sweatshirt on the bunk behind her, Owen was aware suddenly of how her T-shirt clung to the curves she hid beneath her bulky layers. "Let me see."
"You're not fine, so quit saying that and let me see." He gave the overhead light a tug and illumination splashed over them. He gently took her arm, seeing now where an ugly bruise knotted in her upper arm.
"This happened when we slammed against the rail, didn't it?"
"It's no biggie." She made to pull her arm away, but he pressed his hand over the injury. Her arm radiated heat; his cool hand acted like an ice pack.
"You probably bruised the muscle, maybe even the bone the way the blood is pooling here. You could use some ice and some rest."
"We have work to do. My father is exhausted, and I told him I'd spell him." But she didn't pull her arm away, just let his hand cradle it, cooling the muscle.
She had such soft, smooth skin. And the way she caught her bottom lip in her teeth ...
Yeah, maybe he should leave because her bunk room seemed to have shrunk around them. In fact, if the boat lurched the wrong direction —
A creak and Owen found himself off-balance as the Wilhelmina betrayed him, keeling over with the chop of the ocean. He braced himself on her upper bunk before he pitched into Scotty.
But she'd grabbed ahold of his shirt to keep herself from falling back. His hand left her arm, curled around her waist, caught her up to him.
And in that second, he caught a whiff of her skin, some sweet scent that slammed into him like a sharp check into the boards. Good grief, how long had it been since he'd held a woman in his arms?
He knew exactly how long. Remembered every sordid, regrettable detail. But this was different. He was different — or trying to be.
Then the boat rocked back and Scotty fell against him. Owen caught her wrist, helping her right herself. The pulse there thundered, matching his own.
A smile slid up his face. Well, well. So perhaps he should plan dinner ... maybe even dancing?
Clearly his thoughts showed on his face because she yanked her wrist away. "Get out."
"'Yes, sir,' is the right answer."
He didn't know what to name the emotion that shot through him. Frustration? Tenderness? Maybe a combination of both as he tamped down the hot flare of desire. "C'mon, Scotty ..."
She untangled herself from his grasp, not looking at him. "Go.
Before anyone starts getting ideas." His lips tightened. "Yes, sir."
She shot him a look, and he instantly regretted his tone. Owen softened his voice. "At least go easy on that arm. Get some ice on it."
Excerpted from You're the One That I Want by Susan May Warren, Sarah Mason Rische. Copyright © 2016 Susan May Warren. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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